Things I Learned in Therapy
How My Therapists' Methods Helped Me and May Help You
Since the age of fifteen, I have made myself known in the offices of multiple therapists. Now, at twenty-four, I am in therapy again. Originally going in to find out if I have anxiety, depression, or both, my current therapist believes that the possibility of me being high functioning autistic may also be present. This is solely based on what I tell him about my daily life and how he reads me as a client. Always discovering something new about my mental health, while trying to manage the already known problematic areas of myself, I have a few tips and tricks that have been helpful to me over these last few years. Most of these are from my current and former therapist; I could not regard them any higher if I tried.
To start from the beginning, would be to start with my first therapist. I was fifteen when she accepted me as her client. At this stage in my life, I was self-harming and had thoughts of suicide. This was not her area of expertise, but she knew enough to help me through three years of my battle with these demons. One tactic that motivated me not to self-harm was putting a reward system in place. For every week I did not harm myself, my therapist would reward me with something that I had a particular interest in, whether it was showing me a book about it or giving me endless facts for my brain to think about, instead of ways to self-harm. This was one of the first solutions to halt my destructive behavior.
In addition, I learned multiple tools from my most recent, former therapist. His style of therapy was Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and was a big fan of mindfulness. The first lesson he taught me in how to calm my anxiety was to do breathing exercises. First, find a quiet place to sit down with little to no distractions. This could be in your room or outside in a back patio. Have your feet firmly planted on the ground with your eyes closed. Imagine you are at the beach. With the beach in mind, inhale, like the waves are breaking on shore. Then, exhale, as the waves return back into the ocean. This way you have an even rhythm with your breathing and can put yourself in a calm, level state of mind. I was instructed to do this at least five times in a row, but you can do more if you wish. After this exercise is finished, see if you feel calmer than you did before. If so, tackle life's situations again with a clearer mind and body. If not, repeat the exercise as much as you need too.
During a session with my former therapist, I had told him of a time where I went to Chipotle and immediately tensed up because I noticed a certain ethic group sitting at a table. To clarify, I have a high admiration for this group and their culture. The only thing I don't have is the courage to speak to them and befriend them in the process. When I told my therapist this, he suggested I do an experiment the next time I see this group at Chipotle. The suggestion was to acknowledge their presence and when I do, assess my body, thoughts and how I feel. If I feel anxiety, where is it coming from? How weak or how strong is it? What tools can I used in this moment to calm myself down?
Usually my anxiety starts in my chest, followed by my upper body tensing, increased heart rate, racing thoughts, getting worse from there onwards. I play loud music from my headphones to block out some of the anxiety, or I focus on something with my eyes if I don't want to look in a certain direction. The main thing I have to remember is to breathe and do one thing at a time. The next time I went to Chipotle, I did not see this group occupying a table there. This experience will definitely be a test to see if what I have learned in dealing with anxiety is paying off.
Similar to the breathing exercise taught to me by my former therapist, my current therapist taught me a different variation. The second breathing exercise I learned is to press your palms together as you inhale, then separate them as you exhale. In my opinion, this exercise works better because you're releasing some of that pent up anxiety through the pressing of your palms. Similar to the first breathing exercise, five breaths in a row usually helps.
The last trick I learned in therapy is again, credited to my current therapist. This exercise was actually a homework assignment I had to complete before my next session. I asked my therapist to formulate a homework assignment related to the mental disorder that he believes I have the most symptoms in. He believes I have the most symptoms in autism; more specifically, high-functioning autism, or Aspergers. One of the main symptoms would be in the social interaction section. I, myself, have trouble picking up on social cues, I rely on specific instructions and answers or else I get confused, conversations exhaust me, I don't look people in the eyes a lot when I speak to them, naming a few. My homework was to initiate a conversation with a co-worker during one break a day for the span of three days. The days leading up to this homework assignment gave me sleepless nights and anxiety during the day.
However, I already befriended a few co-workers who were into watching anime, so when I conversed, it was mainly with that group. At one point during my homework, I found myself conversing with people two out of the three breaks I had at work. I felt a new confidence within myself. If you struggle with being social, I encourage you to try this out. Start off easy and do it one time during a break at work or in between classes. These do not have to be full-on conversations either. They can be as small as saying “Hi.” to someone or giving them a compliment. To quote the tennis anime, Baby Steps, “Baby steps to giant strides.”
© 2018 Kori Morgan